Snow flakes. Millions of individually formed crystals of frozen water, clinging to delicate, lacy forms, screaming down from the sky in long, fluttering dives, to be crushed on the pavement of a zen garden high above the streets above Darclann’s posh city center. The flakes fill in the carefully drawn ripples in the sand, coat the bamboo comb, glaze the empty pond, the impact of each flake multiplying until even she can only discern a rushing sound like distant waves.
The garden was a gift from her mother, a housewarming present to remind her of the mansion she left behind. Her mother has one very similar, an aid for controlling an explosive temper. Her father can’t relax there, he says. The water feature always awakens Nature, who then calls to him. She doesn’t understand why this makes people chuckle, yet she has stopped pursuing issues like this. Euphemisms have always been her weakest subject.
It is supposed to be peaceful, soothing, meditative. A brief breeze flutters the hem of her marigold dress, a designer piece picked out by her mother for the party. The carefully stitched material accentuates curves she does not have, while the loose sleeves and skirt hide her too-athletic appendages. Her scalp itches under the heavy, blonde wig, so she takes advantage of her privacy to take it off and drop it on the stone bench right next to the gentle tumble of water over round stones that feeds the little pool. Peaceful, soothing, meditative.
Fine. She sits on the bench, feeling the freezing cold leech through the thin material to eat away at her bones. She kicks off the torturous stiletto heels and draws her feet off the ground into a comfortable lotus position. And she meditates, breathing deeply and losing herself until she can again feel the individual bite of every flake of snow. Above the beating of her heart, the steady rush of air into her lungs, she hears traffic a hundred stories below, the rev of engines, the pulsing bass of stereos, the occasional honking. She hears the footsteps of a few late-night pedestrians, the gently jingle of keys and change, the low conversations, the slurred, drunk laughter.
She can smell the car exhaust, clinging selfishly to the snow. And hundreds of perfumes or colognes, she never could distinguish between them. She smells burnt and rotting food, decomposing boxes, rusting metals, sick dogs, cats in heat, and rats, rats, rats. The scents start sticking to the back of her throat, fighting to be fully realized on her tongue. Dirty socks, unwashed garments, halitosis, new sick, old sick, death, death, death, clogging her throat, choking her until all she can sense is sickness trying to force its way her throat.
The roof access door bangs open and she jumps to her bare feet, the shock of cold clearing her head instantly. “Susan,” a silhoette slurs from the doorway. “You’re mishing your own party and I refu-use to teachoo, hehe, teach you proper party girl behaf, behover, be-thingie.” Hana turns to the other silhoette, who appears to be the only obstacle between her and gravity resuming control of the situation. “Wha’s the thingie I’m teashing her?”
“Social behavior,” he replies, catching the petite woman as her body makes a break for the pavement. “And you’re not teaching. You’re demonstrating.”
“Tha’s right. Behaver.” She blinks around at the snow-dusted roof, clumsily wraps her arms around Andrew’s neck, and proceeds to kiss him mercilessly. When she comes up for air, they are both breathing heavily. Susan watches, taking mental notes in case Hana gives a quiz later. Then, Hana leans against his chest and falls into the tranquil sleep of the nearly dangerously intoxicated. Andrew sweeps her into his arms, like Clark Gable without the mustache and the swearing.
“I’m taking Hana home,” Andrew says. “Just wanted to tell you it was a great party and your mother is looking for you.”
“Oh, thank you,” Susan says. He turns and carries his parcel back down the stairs, calling a happy birthday up the echoey corridor.
She retrieves her wig and shoes and takes one last glance at the rooftop garden surrounded by the hush of a billion dying snow flakes. Peaceful, soothing, meditative. Right.